UPDATE: On a couple more viewings, I think this is a little better than I say below and it's fairly well-done, but in general I do think this film is far too much gossip and far too little of Sontag's mind. So I will let this review stand unrevised, because this was my first, unguarded reaction, and it follows:
Saw REGARDING SUSAN SONTAG last night. Well-done enough but I found it shallow. The movie is gossipy and (with only about 90 min to work with) spends far too much time on her ex-lovers and the issue of her never publicly coming out. You barely get any idea of her real achievement and not nearly enough discussion of her work or what it meant, leaving you with a feeling it was "inspiring" or something.
It spends an awful lot of time trying to stick a label on someone who resisted being boxed into ANY labels her whole life, something I admire her for. Ultimately I feel it suffocates her.
Of course it's important to talk about her relationships and her sexuality should not be glossed over at all. It's an important part of her life. But sometimes the film comes off as revenge by the lesbian community at Sontag for refusing to be defined by that or any group. (it's not like she ever wanted to talk much about her personal life anyway) Had she come out she'd have been tagged "lesbian writer Susan Sontag," and her work would have mostly been defined by its relation to gay culture rather than that plus all other culture. (something they're trying to do to her now, this film being part of that) Sontag belongs to all of us and her influence is much bigger than just that. Considering how furious she got whenever introduced as "woman writer" or once (by all-time asshole chauvinist Norman Mailer, and you can see this in the film TOWN BLOODY HALL), "lady writer," I think one can conclude she mainly simply wanted to be considered a "writer" full stop. And why not?
If you know AIDS AND ITS METAPHORS you can't say she abandoned gays. But perhaps she wanted to just be Sontag. (also, though it was mainly women after her divorce, she would more properly be called "bisexual." Why so scared of that word?) In any case, all that would be fine if we got just as much serious talk of her work, but there's so little compared to what there could be.
And it really makes me mad they let so much of her early years be described by a bitter, cackling ex-lover who states without regret she punched Sontag in the face out of jealousy and left a huge bruise. There was a party right after with Allen Ginsburg attending, she says, and he asked, "Why did you hit her? She's younger and prettier than you." And..."That's why," she says she replied. Again, no regret. Presented uncritically. I've admired Sontag since I was in high school; she's a huge influence on my thinking. So hearing that she'd done that to Sontag and seemed to think she was right to do so, frankly, I wanted to punch HER in the face. I think it was seeing her chuckle about it.
To me, remembering what my friend Angel sometimes went through with her girlfriends, I'm reminded how unseriously a lot of lesbians often take abuse within their own community, a real and common problem. This woman's interviews really left me uneasy.
Perhaps had it been longer there could have been more that would actually interest someone not already familiar with Sontag in her work. This isn't that film, sadly. Maybe next time.
"Eternity in the company of Beelzebub, and all of his hellish instruments of death, will be a picnic compared to five minutes with me & this pencil." --E. Blackadder, 1789 Questionable
words & pictures from John Linton Roberson